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Orange County Reports Low COVID-19 Testing Rates

While COVID-19 testing continues to be in short supply, Orange County has reported significantly lower testing rates compared to its neighboring counties. 

All of Orange County’s congress members are demanding to know why residents living in OC are receiving fewer COVID-19 tests compared to Riverside and San Diego County. 

Orange County reported about 3,500 tests per million residents, while San Diego County reported 6,000 and Los Angeles County reported about 5,000. Other counties in California such as Santa Clara County have also reported over 5,000 tests per million residents. 

San Diego, in particular, has a similar population size compared to Orange County, with around 4%more residents. Even so, San Diego County has reported 80% more COVID-19 tests (20,336 tests vs 11,307 tests). 

Reps. Mike Levin, Gil Cisneros, Alan Lowenthal, Lou Correa, Linda Sánchez, Katie Porter and Harley Rouda requested a “briefing to understand the factors contributing to Orange County’s comparably low testing volume.”

Clayton Chau, Orange County’s senior health care administrator, declined to publicly address Orange County’s congressional delegation about the lack of testing. His office instead voiced a statement from the lead spokeswoman in the county CEO’s office. 

“[The Health Care Agency] is in receipt of the letter and is looking over the questions posed within it and will be engaging with members of our Congressional delegation in the near future,” county spokeswoman Molly Nichelson emailed in a statement. 

As debates continue over stay-at-home orders, there is widespread agreement among county and government officials that testing is key to the re-opening of the economy. Yet when it comes to the number of people that have been tested, the Voice of OC reported that Orange County continually lags behind other large California counties. 

Officials announced that in Los Angeles County, all LA residents can schedule a coronavirus test regardless of whether or not they show symptoms of COVID-19. 

Widespread open access to testing is not available in Orange County. In Orange County, individual doctors decide who should be tested or not. The county mainly focuses on testing people who are seriously ill, health care workers, first responders and people in congregate living facilities such as nursing facilities. 

According to Orange County’s testing website, Orange County has limited its county to testing individuals with COVID-19 symptoms, who have already undergone  screening and who have been unable to get testing elsewhere.

Due to the shortage of testing and supplies, officials believe that the actual number of OC residents with COVID-19 is almost certainly many times more than the 5,578 known cases reported as of this Tuesday. 

OC supervisors have set up a closed-door committee of supervisors to look into the testing in Orange County and how to expand its accessibility. They indicated new state guidelines recommending expanding the highest priority for testing — known as “Tier 1”— to essential workers who aren’t symptomatic but are at risk for? contracting COVID-19.

“As more resources become available, the local priority for asymptomatic testing is for [nursing home] workers, other health care workers, first responders and people working in congregate settings,” Dr. Donna Fleming, a public health services consulting manager at the county Health Care Agency, said.

Sarah Kim is a City News Intern for the 2020 spring quarter. She can be reached at sarahmk5@uci.edu.